The Australian Federal Parliament recently held a ‘Sorry Day’ to express the sorrow of Australian citizens for the abuse suffered by children at the hands of perpetrators in many organisations over the years. it was hoped that if the Federal Parliament of Australia said “Sorry” it might help to bring about closure in the lives of abuse victims. It appears that many people were initially helped by the process. There were others though who expressed their reservations about the whole procedure.
Many folk have since asked questions such as these, “How many times must people say sorry before those who were once abused feel there is closure?” Or “How much money has to be given to some abuse victims before they feel they have been fully compensated for their abuse?”
They are difficult questions to even raise, let alone answer. However it has to be said that it is better to err on the side of generosity when dealing with those who been victims of abuse than to treat them with too much suspicion. Some of the stories I have heard from people over the years made me wonder how anyone could have survived what those people went through. They may have survived but by no means were they left unscathed.
DAMAGE AND PAIN ARE REAL
Many of us know in part the tremendous pain of those who were once abused. Lives have been severely damaged and some destroyed. Huge human potential has been lost as those who could have contributed greatly to our human society, had their confidence and feeling of self-worth destroyed. They felt, as a result of the abuse, they were nothing and had nothing to offer.
The damage of abuse is seen in many areas of human lives. One major impact is the psychological damage done to victims. Many of them even decades later still carry the emotional scars of their abuse. Others can still feel the pain of the lashes of a cane or lash across their body and some even have the physical scars as evidence. Unfortunately others were affected spiritually when their abuse happened in a religious organisational setting. Many of them have said that they wondered how God could have allowed such horrible things to happen to them. Their picture of God remains a distorted or even a grotesque one.
In my dealings for over 50 years with abuse victims it became obvious that many of them remained emotionally marred by their experiences of the abuse they suffered. Others became remarkably free of the negative impacts coming from their abuse. How?
TWO INJUSTICES EXIST AT PRESENT
- The injustice done to the victims. If abuse did happen, then they were indeed the victims of injustice. Whilst ever their cases were not being addressed they remained the victims of injustice. Every survivor needs to have their story listened to, attentively, compassionately! As much help as is humanly possible should be offered to those who suffered genuine abuse.
- The injustice being done to individuals in organisations in which historical abuse once took place. The organisations may have been religious organisations like churches, schools or youth groups etc. However the present individuals in those organisations were not responsible for the abuse committed in the past. The present individuals in those groups may be extremely sorry for what happened in the past and express their sorrow that it happened by saying “Sorry” to the victims. However they can’t apologise for or ask forgiveness for themselves for crimes they themselves never committed. Blaming people for something that wasn’t their fault is also injustice.
INJUSTICE MUST BE DEALT WITH, BUT HOW?
We may hear cries such as, “Someone’s got to pay for what happened! Justice demands it!” Or “The evil the abusers did has to be punished!” True statements but the truths behind them may be very difficult to implement. In many cases the perpetrators who did the abuse are no longer alive. There is no way they can be punished for their crimes except by having their names recorded as perpetrators of abuse. It would be unfair to impose some form of punishment on their families when none of them may have been involved in the abuse. [Unless of course the perpetrator of an abuse gained financially from their victim as a result of the abuse. One would think any financial gain that was taken from a victim should be restored to the victim.]
ONGOING APOLOGIES AND FINANCIAL COMPENSATION
It could be argued that the effects of abuse are both short term and long term. Until the pain and associated shame has come to an end there would appear to be a need to continue in giving apologies and financial compensation to help ease the pain. But obviously it can’t go on forever. There has to be closure at some point, at least for some individuals who are open for it.
Is there another way? How can justice be met and closure become a real possibility in the lives of lives of abused victims?
THE HUMAN REALITY
Justice has been done. It is possible for people to be set free from the traumas of the past and be able to move on in life. But how?
The following are a number of truths that exist in reality and not just in our human imagination. But they are truths that have to be acted on in order become real in any individual’s life.
TRUTH NUMBER 1. Justice has been met. The punishment for all types of sins [including all forms of abuse] has been carried out.
- God the Creator had a remedy for the human situation. He knew from the beginning that His creatures would fail to live as they should. They would harm each other as they exercised their freewill. He indicated that human sin was horrific in His sight. Sin had to be atoned for by sacrifice.
- He instituted a whole sacrificial system which showed that all forms of sin would need a sacrifice to remove the guilt of sinners.
- The sacrifices were all prototypes of the One sacrifice that would cover the sins of the whole world throughout all generations
- Jesus was seen as “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” It was always in God’s eternal plan and purpose that He as the Son of God should fulfil all the prophecies of the promised Messiah and be made sin for humankind.
- Jesus did make that one perfect sacrifice for sins that would remove guilt forever. As the writer to the Hebrews wrote, Heb 10:12 “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
- The benefits of the one atoning sacrifice exist in Him alone. Forgiveness for all sin and eternal life. They can only be received in Him. Eph 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
- They are being received in Him daily by individuals throughout the world.
TRUTH NUMBER 2. Healing and release have become available for the abused
- Every person needs forgiveness and it is possible for them to experience it. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Every sin is a sin against God as well as against our fellow human. But the good news is that God made forgiveness available, as the next verse indicates, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Christ has died to set people free of the penalty their sins deserved. Forgiveness is available in Him and because of Him.
- Not only can we experience the release of being forgiven ourselves but we can also experience the release of being forgiving. St Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.“ The great significance of this verse is that the word used for “forgiving “and “forgave” is [charizomai; χαρίζομαι] which comes from [charis] meaning grace, God’s unmerited favour towards us. God “graced” us with forgiveness when we put our trust in Christ. We didn’t deserve it and we couldn’t earn it. No amount of money could buy it. It was an act of sheer grace towards us. In forgiving us He gave us something we could never earn nor deserve nor purchase.
- We are to forgive in the same way as He forgave us. That is, we are to forgive that other person, bestowing on them a gift they could never deserve, earn or buy!
- However our sin against other humans is not in the same magnitude as our sin against God as the Perfect One. If God is willing to forgive us of so much, then we need to forgive others of their sins against us which are [by comparison] so much less, even though those sins may have been absolutely horrifying with devastating consequences for us.
- That is the point of the parable of the Unforgiving servant where a servant is forgiven by his master of a debt of billions of dollars, Mat 18:27 “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” But when that servant found another servant who owed him just a few dollars, he did not show pity. He did not release him. He did not forgive the debt. He had him thrown into prison! The master heard of this injustice, called the servant in and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ Mat 18:32-3.
- If God has forgiven us of billions then we must forgive those who sinned against us of so little by comparison. For our own sake. Holding bitterness and unforgiveness against anyone means that we remain in the prison of our negative emotions. There can be no closure when we refuse to close the book of debts we think that person or those other people owe us. The very sad truth is that the when we refuse to forgive that person who hurt us, they still have some control over us. Our negative thoughts about them may bring back much of the pain we initially experienced from their abuse.
TRUTH NUMBER 3. Forgiveness is a choice
I have been amazed in ministry to see how some people who have been through the most vile and horrific experiences at the hands of other people, have become wonderfully free. For all of them, their healing and release began with a choice. A choice initially to get their lives right with God by asking for His forgiveness and help. Then later, and sometimes much later, a choice to forgive the person or persons who had hurt them so much. Having experienced the joy and release of being forgiven by God they found that they became free to release that other person in forgiving them. Forgiven of billions, they were now able to forgive others of far less [by comparison.]
TRUTH NUMBER 4. Forgiveness is a must! For any sort of closure!
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that we are condoning what happened to us. It isn’t lessening the degree of the damage done to us. It isn’t saying that the perpetrator is no longer guilty. [They remain guilty until they repent of their sins before God and find forgiveness in Him.]
It seems to me that this is really the only way to find closure from the pain of the memories of the ghastly things that have happened to us in the past. If our attitude is such they we are convinced that the only way we can be free and find closure is by getting that other person or those other people to say “Sorry” to us and to beg for our forgiveness, or pay us a whole lot of money in compensation, then we may never find any sort of release or closure. How often have they got to say “Sorry” to us? How much money do they need to pay to us in compensation?
In short, our release and healing is not dependent on what the other person or persons may do. Some may never say “Sorry” to us. Some may never give us any form of compensation. Rather it is dependent on what we decide to do. Sad! Inconvenient, but true!
A true story. Gertude [not her real name] came to see me. She had been sent by her minister in another denomination. She was Eastern European, depressed with a serious cancer. She was in a bad way. When she began to tell me about her life in Europe I could see why she looked back with deep sadness. As a young woman she had been badly burnt. As a result she was wrapped in bandages from head to toe recovering in the same room as another young woman who was ill. Suddenly the door of the room burst open and a number of advancing Russian soldiers burst into the room. Finding an attractive young woman lying there they took turns in raping her while the wrapped-up “mummy” had to listen to the screams. Eventually the soldiers left leaving her untouched and the other woman violated and deeply traumatised. Gertrude had a very deep case of ‘survivor guilt’. She felt guilty that she survived while the other woman was so badly treated. Later on, she was to suffer her own indignities and traumas which had left her with many lingering horrific memories.
Just before she came to see me, she had become a Christian and had asked God to forgive her and to heal her. She wondered how she could ever lose those memories. And how could she ever forgive all those people who had abused her during her life? We talked about healing and forgiveness. She recognised that she needed to forgive her abusers so that she could become free of unhelpful murderous thoughts she often had towards them. She began to realise that she could choose to forgive them or she could choose not to do so. When she indicated that she needed to, and now wanted to forgive them so she could know healing I suggested a plan for her to follow. She could get a notebook and write down the names of the people who had hurt her over the years. Then she could come back to me later and she could bring the names in the book before the Lord as she forgave each one in turn.
Gertude returned a few weeks later. As I met her in the counselling room I was rather taken aback at the size of the large folder she was carrying. She smiled and said “There were more people than I thought there were!” Then she added those reassuring words, “But I have already brought lots of those names before the Lord and forgiven them. I just have a few more to bring before Him with you now.“
In my presence she asked the Lord to forgive her for holding unforgiveness towards a number of people. Then she began to forgive the remaining people one by one. When she had finished I prayed that the Lord would bring her rapid and complete healing. Then we went outside where there was a large metal drum. She tore up all the sheets of paper that she had brought and set them on fire. For about an hour we remained there while she stirred the ashes with a long metal pole. When only ash remained we parted and as she left it was obvious that she was a different woman to the one who had come a few weeks earlier.
Some months later her minister rang and said, “What do you do to Gertrude. She a completely different woman! She has a clean bill of health as well.” She had allowed God to heal her. Forgiveness brings healing. Emotional, physical and spiritual healing.
Gertude had been violated and hurt perhaps more than most of will ever be in life. But she refused to see herself as an ongoing victim. She chose wisely. She chose to seek the Lord and His blessing and healing. Then she chose to do something about the bitterness she had had towards a number of people. The end result was a healed transformed woman whose change had amazed her minister.
Probably in the days to come we will have other “Sorry days” when we will be asked to say “Sorry” to victims of some form of abuse. We may have had nothing to do with that abuse but it is helpful for those abused to hear someone say “sorry!” Their pain does need to acknowledged.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of those who heard our Prime Minister say “Sorry” to survivors of abuse a few days ago, didn’t feel the need to hear it again because they had experienced the release and healing that Gertrude experienced. That will always be my prayer for those who have been deeply wounded by the sin of some fellow humans. Gertrude, as well as many others, have shown me that when they seek the Lord’s help in seeking to be forgiven and forgiving, He can do miracles!
Blog No 299 posted on www.jimholbeck.blog on Thursday 25th October 2018
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